Tuesday 8 January 2013

Sierra Loja and Huetor Tajar

Stock Dove Paloma Zurita Columba oenas

The start of a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies following on overnight minimum temperature of 12C so much anticipation as I set off over the mountain at Ventas de Zafarrya for a day's birding up the Sierra Loja and around the fields of Huetor Tajar.  Kestrel, Thekla Larks, Black Redstart as I came down the mountain then scores of White Wagtails which seem to appear at every bend in the road along with regular Collared Doves in the valley.  Passing beyond Zafarrya itself I had a Jay fly across in front of the car and there were many Corn Buntings and Chaffinches to be seen in the bare trees along with a couple of Mistle Thrushes and many Blackbirds as I made my way towards the distant motorway near Loja.  And then the fun and games started.  Just as I was beginning to think that the fields and grass below the olive trees had a certain "paleness" about them I hit the frost on the roads.   No sooner had I got over this shock, not far beyond the turn back towards Alfarnarte, than in the distance I could see the thick mist and/or fog in the low-lying distance.  Yes, it was drive down to the motorway on full lights and, on reaching the service station above Loja where I met up with Mick Richardson and Juan Perez, we were in the thick of it and I was informed that, whilst I had been enjoying +12C, Loja had been experiencing -12C overnight!!!

A Brambling Pinzon Real Fringilla montifringilla at last!

All into my car and we off by 9.45 and driving up to the first, small, quarry where we emerged from the mist into bright sunshine; sunshine that was to get warmer and warmer as the day progressed so necessitating the removal of a couple of layers of clothing and even bobble hats and gloves.  The small tree to the top left of the quarry contained a small flock of Long-tailed Tits as we arrived and as these departed they were replaced by both Blue and Great Tits.  A Robin scratched around below and a couple of Meadow Pipits passed over along with a small number of Wood Pigeons whilst both Mick and Juan heard Short-toed Treecreepers calling. Carrying on up to the main quarry past a flock of House Sparrows which included a single Tree Sparrow, we arrive to find the cupboard bare, not a bird to be seen or heard.  However, within a few minutes we had a flock, indeed a clattering, of thirty plus Choughs above the Eagle Owl's nest and then at least three individual Dartford Warblers were heard and one seen.

So started our birding day and by the time we split up to start our respective journeys home it might be easier to record what we did not see (e.g. Crag Martin, Crossbill, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Rock Sparrow) rather the birds actually seen!  A cracking day which eventually reached the 60 mark and without visiting any large sheet water to record ducks and waders.

One of many Rock Buntings Escribano Montesino Emberiza cia seen on the mouintain

The target was to try and record all the present seven species of thrush so we decided to head straight to the top and the last-known feeding area about three or four kilometres beyond Charco de Negra.  We did, however, have a couple of short stops on the way as we recorded more Choughs and then Jackdaws, a Hoopoe walking along the track in front of us and the occasional Red-legged Partridge doing what Red-legged Partridges do when confronted out in the field.  Just beyond the turn we came across a reasonable -sized mixed flock of Thekla Larks, Rock Buntings and Corn Buntings and the previous short stop had produced a number of Black Wheatears, a Blue Rock Thrush, Stonechats, Sardinian Warblers and more Black Redstarts.  And just before the turning we recorded the local Little Owl perching, this time, on top of a small rock pile on the opposite side of the track, perhaps because his usual rock pile was now occupied by a Southern Grey Shrike.

A well hidden Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

So on to the thrush-feeding area where there were still many Hawthorne trees bearing berries, albeit some looking a little on the shriveled side.  Soon we had a single Ring Ouzel and further searching produced a few more giving a probable total of about eight or nine.  Mistle Thrushes were added  but, sadly, no sign  on this occasion of either Redwing or Fieldfare and, during the while day, we were unable to add Song Thrush.  The school teacher in me tells that 4 out of 7 probably deserves a "Could be better!"  However, feeding with the Ring Ouzels were many finches including Goldfinch, Serin, Chaffinch and even a single Hawfinch.  Add on a small number of Alpine Accentors and this was a very worthwhile stop.  Add on Crested Lark and a passing Kestrel and our cups almost overfloweth.

Green Sandpiper  Andarrios Grande  Tringa ochropus

From here it was back down the mountain and re-organise the cars for a drive around the Huetor Tajar fields.  Lots of Lapwings every where and we soon added Magpie along with Serin and many Meadow Pipits.  The drive along the river produced a number of Grey in addition to the White Wagtails plus three Green Sandpipers and a very timed Moorhen hiding behind the reeds.  Above the reeds, Chiffchaffs fed as if there were no tomorrow along with numerous Chaffinches and Linnets.  A Cattle Egret in the field took no interest in our passing but, soon, we were also starting to see the first of the wandering groups of Azure-winged magpies.  A Cetti's Warbler gave forth a loud burst of song and then exposed itself as it crept through the undergrowth.

Part of the large Lapwing Avefria Europea Vanellus vanellus flock to be seen

On and around to the usual river bank where we found more Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinches but still no sign of a Brambling.  The group of nearby House Sparrows also included a couple of Tree Sparrows and then, resting on a vertical branch of the tree, a female Cirl Bunting was also recorded.  A Little Egret flew over and a juvenile Pergrine Falcon rested on (more like in) a distant electricity pylon whilst atop the next pylon a Buzzard took its ease.   Watching the large flock of Lapwings a small flock of Sky Larks flew past and then , probably, the sight of the day.  Sat at the top of a distant pomegranate tree a small greenish "blob"; could it be?  Telescopes out and confirmation that we had a Stock Dove.  Further scoping produced another trio on the fields in front and then, perhaps coinciding with the Buzzard taking to the air, a flock of fourteen Stock Doves in the air giving a probable total of eighteen for the area.

A pair of Stock Doves Paloma Zurita Columba oenas at Heutor Tajar

Now it was just a case of a circuit to the back fields, having first made a brief stop for refreshments at Mick's favourite bar where we found a male Blackcap, to find the missing birds.  Still no Bramblings with the Serins, Golfinches, Chaffinches and Linnets but then a flock of about thirty Little Bustards which came down in the thick vegetation.  But they were eventually found, or at least a handful or more were seen.  Whilst watching the Little Bustards we checked out the local flock of Spotless Starlings and, sure enough, we managed to locate at least three Common (Northern) Starlings.  Then it was back to the main road and the fields opposite did produce our Stone Curlews but, try as we did, we could only find a handful.  Where were the others even allowing for smaller numbers this winter?

Record shot of Little Bustard  Sison Comun  Tetrax tetrax

Heading back to the cars along the far stretch of the river we finally managed to find our Brambling, a single male.  What a way to end a splendid day's birding in great company.  60 cracking species to get the year well and truly under way.

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Moorhen, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Southern Grey Shrike, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Common Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting.

Check out the accompanying website at http://www.birdingaxarquia.weebly.com for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information

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